Playing tourist in Bonifacio, Ajaccio and Calvi

Debbra Dunning Brouillette sailed a fabulous Balearic Islands itinerary on Star Flyer. Take a look at an excerpt from her feature in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram!


[caption id="attachment_16510" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Calvi’s picturesque palm-lined harbor is the starting point for exploring the town and its 15th century Citadel. Photo by Debbra Dunning Brouillette.




Passengers congregated on the top deck as we neared Corsica’s southern tip into Bonifacio.



Its chalk-white limestone cliffs, separated from the Italian island of Sardinia by a seven-mile-wide strait, are among the island’s most distinctive sights, in contrast to its mountainous granite interior.



Leaving the ship, we walked past an impressive row of yachts to the tourist train, which transported us from Bonifacio’s Old Town to the upper part of the city, built on the site of a ninth-century citadel. We walked through the battlements of the reconstructed fortress, and then along the wall of the medieval city, where buildings appeared to teeter on the edges of the cliffs.







After seizing the opportunity to descend to ocean level via the legendary King Aragon’s steps, a steep stairway of 187 steps cut into the limestone cliffs, we stopped at a cafe near the fortress for a glass of wine and a fortifying snack of local cheeses, crusty bread and fig preserves before walking back to the harbor down a sloping set of steps.



The star of our second Corsican port is Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Ajaccio in 1769.



Bonaparte’s name graces everything from the airport to a hotel, street, shops, bars, and even a gelateria. The French first gained control of Corsica the year of Bonaparte’s birth. Before that, it had spent more than 500 years as an Italian Genoese republic. A brief period of independence followed, but since 1796, when Napoleon moved in with his army, Corsica has been a department of France.



From the top of a double-decker sightseeing bus, we passed multiple monuments to the ex-emperor and military leader on our way out of the city. Soon, we reached the nearby Sanguinaires Islands, a popular resort location for vacationers from the French mainland, then toured his birthplace, a Bonaparte family home until the 1920s and now a national museum.



While Bonaparte left his mark on Ajaccio, our final Corsican port claims another major historical figure as its own. Although still in dispute, Calvi is widely believed to have been the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. A statue at the site of his presumed home commemorates his birth in 1436, with one wall remaining within the 15th-century citadel.



Given a full day in port, we explored the town and citadel, then toured two medieval villages in the Balagne region north of Calvi, which is known for its figs, olive oil, and wine.



The first was Sant’Antonino, a ninth-century village said to be the oldest inhabited village in Corsica and officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its hilltop location at an elevation of 1,800 feet is often compared to an eagle’s nest, as it offers bird’s-eye views of the Balagne plain and the bay of Calvi.



Pigna, one of several villages on the Balagne Craft Trail, was our second all-too-brief stop.



Its distinctive blue-shuttered stone buildings line narrow streets branching out from a central courtyard, and we spied several artisans’ workshops offering pottery, music boxes, woodcarvings and other traditional crafts. I purchased a small ceramic plate incised with a fish design as a memento of our day.



For more of Debbra's story, including calls at Menorca, St. Tropez and Monaco, click here.
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